Native American Heritage Month Photo illustration by Chris Jennings

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

By Kendra Germany-Wall
November 1, 2021

Every November is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month.

This month’s issue of the Biskinik is dedicated to the accomplishments and successes of Choctaw tribal members around the world. In this issue, we will spotlight only a few of the thousands of Choctaws who are making a positive change in the world and living out their dreams.

History

Native American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate Native cultural heritage and educate others of tribal history.
Native American Heritage Month began as a week-long celebration during November 23–30, 1986. In 1990, a joint resolution was approved by President George H.W. Bush, which called for November to be named National American Indian Heritage Month. Similar proclamations have been issued by every president since 1994, designating the entire month of November as National Native American Heritage Month.

The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people.

There are more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and Oklahoma itself is home to 39 federally recognized sovereign nations.

Native culture, traditions and language are intertwined into the fabric of life in America.

Native American Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the public about tribes and raise general awareness about Indigenous people’s unique challenges throughout history.

It is also a time to celebrate how Native Americans have worked to conquer these challenges.

One way to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is to be a cultural keeper.

According to Choctaw Cultural Services, culture keepers are those who carry traditional knowledge, teachings, and stories and share them with the community to ensure cultural continuity.

Choctaw Cultural Center
Photo by Choctaw Nation

The Choctaw Cultural Center includes over 100,000 square feet of rich, engaging exhibitions, a vast Living Village, classrooms, a theater, café and retail that bring the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture to life.

Language

Another vital factor in preserving culture is protecting Native languages.

“When our ancestors began interacting with European and American settlers, we learned to speak their languages in order to be successful in trade and government relations. Over time, fewer and fewer people spoke Choctaw fluently. Our children were even forbidden from speaking their native language in schools and in some Choctaw homes,” explained Gary Batton, Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “Today, we are strengthening our language through the Anumpa Aiikhvna school. Our language experts and fluent speakers teach the Choctaw language to students in communities and public schools across our reservation.”

The Choctaw Language Program started with three public schools during its pilot. Now, it employs 21 teachers and serves approximately 3,000 people weekly through its website, community classes, public schools, colleges, online classes, early childhood and elementary classes.

Chahta language is taught by distance learning, which allows the language instructor and students to interact in real-time. An estimated 1300 students are currently learning the Choctaw language daily through the 14 Head Start centers, two elementary classrooms and 42 Oklahoma public high schools served within the Choctaw Nation’s boundaries.
Classes are offered to college students enrolled at Carl Albert State College and Southeastern Oklahoma State University as well.

Community classes are available at 30 sites both within and outside of the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation. Community classes are free of charge and are open to the public.

Historian Curtis Billy states, “The language sets us apart from other tribes; we don’t want to lose our unique sounds and our emphasis. We want to be good stewards of our language to pass on to the next generation. The language is used to pass on our traditions and oral stories.”

You can also learn a bit about the Choctaw Language by reading the monthly language lesson in the Biskinik.
For more information about the School of Choctaw Language, visit choctawschool.com, or call 1-800-522-6170.

Choctaw Cultural Center
Photo by Choctaw Nation

The Choctaw Cultural Center features breathtaking artwork and scenic views.

Culture

Choctaw cultural traditions and history are also preserved through the efforts of the Choctaw Nation’s Cultural Services department.

Services include classes for the community and tribal employees, educational presentations, storytelling, cultural exhibits and demonstrations, and educational and resource materials related to culture.

The Historic Preservation department also works to assist the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma community in preserving its living heritage by protecting sacred sites and historic sites and aiding community efforts to maintain and revitalize Choctaw traditional culture.

Anyone interested in learning more about the history and culture of the Choctaw people should visit the Choctaw Cultural Center in Durant, Oklahoma.

The Choctaw Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring, preserving and highlighting the culture and history of the Choctaw people. The exhibits are immersive and told from the Choctaw perspective – honoring the physical and spiritual journey of the Choctaw people, or the “Chahta Nowvt Aya.” The Cultural Center includes over 100,000 square feet of rich, engaging exhibitions, a vast Living Village, classrooms, a theater, a café and a gift shop.

The Choctaw Cultural Center offers tours, classes, demonstrations and films on a daily basis. Hours of operation are Wednesday-Friday 10 a.m. through 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. through 7 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. Site tours begin at 2 p.m. daily (or by request, based on educator availability).

The Choctaw Nation wants to know how you intend to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. Share your story by using #TogetherWereMore on social media or by visiting choctawnation.com/together-were-more.

For more ways to stay up to date on what is happening in the Choctaw Nation, visit choctawnation.com, or follow the Nation on all social media platforms.